Operation CHAOS or Operation MHCHAOS was the code name for an American domestic espionage project conducted by the Central Intelligence Agency. A department within the CIA was established in 1967 on orders from President of the United States Lyndon B. Johnson and later expanded under President Richard Nixon. The operation was launched under Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) Richard Helms, by chief of counterintelligence, James Jesus Angleton, and headed by Richard Ober. The program's goal was to unmask possible foreign influences on the student antiwar movement. The "MH" designation is to signify the program had a worldwide area of operations.
The CIA began domestic recruiting operations in 1959 in the process of finding Cuban exiles they could use in the campaign against communist Cuba and Fidel Castro. As these operations expanded, the CIA formed a Domestic Operations Division in 1964. In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson asked CIA to begin its own investigation into domestic dissent—independent of the FBI's ongoing COINTELPRO.
The CIA developed numerous operations targeting domestic dissent, many operating under the CIA's Office of Security. These included:
* HTLINGUAL - Directed at letters passing between the United States and the then Soviet Union, the program involved the examination of correspondence to and from individuals or organizations placed on a watchlist. * Project 2 - Directed at infiltration of foreign intelligence targets by agents posing as dissident sympathizers and which, like CHAOS, had placed agents within domestic radical organizations for the purposes of training and establishment of dissident credentials. * Project MERRIMAC - Designed to infiltrate domestic antiwar and radical organizations thought to pose a threat to security of CIA property and personnel. * Project RESISTANCE - Worked with college administrators, campus security and local police to identify anti-war activists and political dissidents without any infiltration taking place * Domestic Contact Service - Focused on collecting foreign intelligence from willing Americans.
Following the revelations by the Rockefeller Commission, then-DCI George H. W. Bush admitted that "the operation in practice resulted in some improper accumulation of material on legitimate domestic activities."